The Bad Kind of Minimalism

Shortcutting causes erosion

As I get older, I find myself becoming more and more of a minimalist. I want less stuff. I want less distractions. I want less good things in my life in order to make more room for the best things in life. I’m becoming a big fan of that kind of minimalism.  But there is also a bad kind of minimalism. It’s one that constantly asks, “What is the least I can do and still get by?” And when we apply that kind of minimalism to the core parts of our lives, it’s a really effective way to be amazingly mediocre, boring, and unfulfilled.

“Minimalism is a mind-set, a habit of the mind that can affect any area of our lives.

The litany of the minimalist is never ending.

What is the least I can do and still keep my job? What is the least I can do and still get reasonable grades in school? What is the least I can do and stay physically fit? What is the least I can do and raise my children? What is the least I can do and keep my spouse from nagging me? What is the least I can do and still get to heaven?

The minimalist wants the fruits of a certain toil but does not want to toil.

Minimalism breeds mediocrity. It is the destroyer of passion. Minimalism is one of the greatest character diseases of our time. It is the enemy of excellence and a cancer on society.” – Matthew Kelly, The Rhythm of Life

A “character disease” indeed. And an epidemic, really.

There are two main reasons I find myself tending toward this unhealthy kind of minimalism.

1) I’m lazy. I’m not disciplined. And to make up for it, I end up needing to cut corners and get through the easy way (which is rarely as good or as rewarding as the often tough and challenging natural way).

2) I try to do too much. There are endless opportunities to learn, love and experience this world and its curious inhabitants. We often focus on superficially doing as much of it as possible and trying to cram it all in, hoping it somehow all adds up to happiness. And it necessitates the lame excuses and shortcuts that come from the blunder of making “modern conditions an absolute end, and then trying to fit human necessities to that end.”

What I mean is that we start with the fact that we need a certain house in a certain neighborhood with certain schools. And we need to drive certain cars and have a certain paying job (or two of them). And we need to watch this much TV and have this kind of lifestyle and go on these kinds of vacations and do this kind of recreation. And then we say, “Ok, how many kids can we squeeze into that?”  “How much prayer is practical with that kind of schedule?” “How much time (considering all we have to do) is considered a ‘reasonable’ amount of time to spend caring for and loving our family?”  Of course, we’ve got this backwards. And having it backwards naturally leads to embracing the bad kind of minimalism in the most important parts of our lives.

We are so busy worrying we’re going to miss out on something that we end up missing out on a very simple, but important fact: We only need to do a very small bit of it all with excellence and passion to be happy. And if we do it with the right small bit of it all, we will live a joyously fulfilled, complete and extraordinary life.

3 comments Add comment

Artie January 18, 2011 at 4:33 pm

Don’t know why but I thought of “Farris Bueller’s Day Off” a few times when reading this blog post.

I found this to be a great article on an epidemic that is indeed a problem of society.

Think about the standards that society has set for a moment.
1. Get an education.
2. Go to college and get a degree
3. Find a good paying job.

When you meet these 3 pre-requisites you can pursue marriage and having a family. Combine this with instance gratification that society promotes and it can be very difficult and often times frustrating.

We have been groomed to be very proficient multi-taskers, which sometimes appears to put less emphasis on the important things in life.

dbond January 19, 2011 at 12:40 am

I am an artist and did teach art for several years before illness required me to stop teaching. In college I learned about the idea of minimalism, but I never bought into it-you know-that part/whole thing, where just doing a little part can represent a whole thing. Maybe to a small degree it can create a nice effect, but, in my gut it just felt like I was lazy or cheating by only creating a small fraction to represent the whole picture. It takes less energy, less creativity , less skill, less enginuity, less time, less effort, paint and other resources, to slap on a canvas a couple of lines with two dots, supposing to represent two people, than it would to capture in an edifying way the detail and lines of two actual people. But of course those who think they “know it all” will tell you that it is “more” creative to represent the whole with just a part. Yeah, right. So very much is lost if this is suppose to be representational. The canvas with the two lines and two dots leaves out the experience of the two people. It has cheated us by saying:” it’s whatever your eyes and mind tells you it is.” Why bother with it at all?
I think that is similar to how some people today look at life, those who do not take the time or make the effort to seek Truth. Relativism seems like an easy way to go: “life is whatever your eyes and mind tells you it is”. No depth, no work or exploration, no moral compass to get in the way, no faith. Saves a lot of time and effort. But so shallow, there’s simply nothing there. They’ve cheated themselves of creating a real life, a life made in the image of the Author of life.

mary January 20, 2011 at 11:45 am

I found myself trying to skim through this article so I could get the maximum idea with a minimal amount of effort and so I had to check myself. Thanks for reminding me that life is to be savored and slowly consumed for the precious gift that it is.

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